VALLETTA, Malta - For the second time in a week, a smugglers' boat overloaded with migrants capsized in the Canal of Sicily on Friday as it made the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. At least 27 people drowned, but 221 people were rescued in a joint Italian-Maltese operation, officials said.
Helicopters ferried the injured to Lampedusa, the Italian island that is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland and the destination of choice for most smugglers' boats leaving Tunisia or Libya. It was off Lampedusa that a migrant ship from Libya capsized Oct. 3 with about 500 people aboard. Only 155 survived.
Friday's capsizing occurred 65 miles southeast of Lampedusa, but in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.
The shipwrecks were the latest grim reminder of the extreme risks that migrants and asylum-seekers take to slip into Europe every year by boat. Facing unrest and persecution in Africa and the Middle East, many think the Lampedusa escape route to Europe is worth the risk.
"They do know that they are risking their lives, but it is a rational decision," said Maurizio Albahari, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. "Because they know for a fact they will be facing death or persecution at home - whatever remains of their home, or assuming there is a home in the first place."
What drives them is the hope that they'll have a better life, he said.